Monday in Charleston didn’t exactly feel like Monday. Yeah, there was a lot to do, but it was the second day of sessions, so it felt more like Tuesday. I had that problem from time to time all week long.
I got myself ready to go and left the hotel room at around 7:30. I figured that I’d get a little breakfast and chat with a couple folks before walking over to the meeting. I wanted to get there when the first remarks started at 7:45, but for some reason I figured setting a goal of getting over there by 8am would be a good idea.
After unloading myself from the elevator, I went around it and started looking around to find anyone I might know. That was unsuccessful amongst the folks sitting and eating. I looked back from whence I came, and Laura Velasquez was standing there. The fact that we met during the first moments of Monday is a complete reversal from Birmingham, and I still find that rather hilarious.
I grabbed breakfast, and scanned the vicinity once again, to see no one else I knew. Laura caught my eye and jerked her head back to get me to follow her, which I did. The first question out of her mouth when I sat down was a simple one. “Is that all you’re gonna eat?”
As large of a person as I am, I change to near bird-eating status when I go out of town on vacation. I don’t know if I want to make sure I’ll feel okay after the meal, try to lessen the chances I might get sick while I’m away, or what makes me that way. That was my situation in Birmingham two years earlier. I ate very little and worked myself crazy volunteering at that meeting. And lost ten pounds in the process. So that explains why I was merely eating a bagel for breakfast. I didn’t even put anything on it. Despite that question, eating a bagel for breakfast was my morning tradition the rest of the week.
I did think that question was funny, and chuckled at it before explaining a lot of the above to Laura. Judging by the look on her face, that seemed to be a halfway decent reason to only eat a bagel for lunch. As it always is these days, we held a conversation while scrolling on the Twitter app on our phones. Multitasking is an important thing these days, but that morning I tried to keep myself from doing that as much as I could.
I may get myself in trouble a few times during this blog, so I might as well start now that I’m about 500 words in. I sat there eating breakfast with Laura for about 15 minutes, and I discovered that I enjoyed watching her facial expressions while we were talking. To be fair to everyone else in the human race, I’ve been doing that a lot lately, from the folks I work with to the lady who works in the meat department at the grocery store. It’s always an interesting study when I do that, and with Laura it was no different. I really hope that doesn’t sound creepy!
Laura mentioned that she didn’t know where the meetings were, and I told her that I’d show her since I was going there, too. It was at that moment that I started to say the stupidest thing in the history of humanity. I got halfway through “I’ll walk over there with you, but it’s a long way over there,” when I stopped myself. I got a quizzical look and decided to go ahead and finish by saying. “Well, I was going to tell you that it’s a long walk over there until I realized that I’m talking to someone who ran a marathon yesterday!”
Thankfully, that got a chuckle, because at that moment I felt terribly stupid. After about two minutes of walking and talking about the Sunday sessions, I heard Laura tell me that it was indeed a pretty long walk, and doing so in heels was making her hurt a little after the 26.2 mile journey yesterday. A little. I kept reminding myself that if I’d tried to run that far I would’ve never made it, and if I’d made it, my entire next day would be spent in bed somewhere. That, my friends, is the difference between fit people and fat people. Slowly but surely, I’m on my way from the latter to the former! (more on that later)
The first thing on the meeting agenda was the Keynote Address, from Bill Read, the former director of the National Hurricane Center. He is a very respected person in meteorology, and his look matches the part. Quite honestly, he looks a lot like the pastor of my church when I was a kid. That automatically made me more interested in his address than just the fact that I was a weather geek at a weather meeting.
I’d left Laura outside to register, and she came in and sat beside me. For about five minutes I thought various thoughts about that particular situation, mostly reminding myself of the intense irony of how we’d talked for a grand total of a minute in Birmingham on a day when I wasn’t feeling very well. Today I was feeling pretty good, and as is normal in a meeting like this, we shared brief thoughts about things regarding all the rest of the morning presentations, along with a dog picture and the official time for her race on Sunday.
The first session included a talk about Sandy (I refuse to call it a superstorm!) in terms of storm surge that happened with a storm that wasn’t all that strong at all. That storm proved for the rest of time and eternity that there’s no such thing as “just” a category 1 hurricane. I’m still amazed when I read about all the damage that happened up there with that storm, and later I was reminded at how much snow that storm caused, all the way down here in Tennessee!
During coffee breaks, people shuffle around, and that happened this time. I ended up sitting with Dan Goff during the second morning session, and it was good to chat with him about various things. Not only did we travel to Birmingham together, we watched an NCAA tournament baseball game in Blacksburg last spring. I don’t get to sit outside and watch clouds much, so it was interesting that day to sit with Dan and get his analysis on the clouds and how they showed what was happening in the atmosphere. Chasers know these things, office dwellers like me generally don’t. At least for now.
One of the late morning presentations showed me something that’s very sad about society. Klout is a social media service that takes score of various things about social media and tells you on a 100 point scale how social media savvy and interactive you are. I think my last score was 47, but I need to revisit that. It turns out that most NWS offices score in the upper 30’s to low 50’s on that, with one office up around 68. Meanwhile, Justin Bieber is a sickening 98. I fail to understand why people would rather follow entertainment figures than people whose stated goal is to keep them safe from bad weather. Oh, well.
That whole session was an exercise in the social science aspects of meteorology and specifically severe weather. That’s a topic that we’ll have in these sessions until the end of time, as we’re always trying to study things like what makes people decide to take shelter in tornado warnings or why people ignore warnings from time to time. Does it take two sources confirming information before you take shelter from storms?
For me, the second morning session was an exercise in two things. I was very active throughout the meeting in tweeting interesting bits from the presentations. But also, an absolutely enormous press conference was happening back in Bristol. The previous Thursday, news slowly leaked out that after 17 long years, Tennessee and Virginia Tech had finally struck a deal on getting a football game played at Bristol Motor Speedway. Nobody official would say anything, except that a “major announcement” would be forthcoming at the track on Monday.
That announcement likely is the biggest press conference in over 20 years for my little town. I was and continue to be very excited about that game. So throughout the morning, my Twitter was a completely confusing mess, alternating between tweets about the NWA meeting and the press conference in my hometown. It was a very exciting morning for sure, as I was interacting with people from Knoxville who were in my hometown for that meeting while I was way down in South Carolina. The Battle at Bristol is coming…September 10, 2016!
During that entire mess, I got a tweet from Ricky Matthews. He’s at UNC-Charlotte on a regular basis, and has interned at a lot of TV stations in their weather departments. The man can also fly airplanes, apparently. So we’re tweeting each other from the same room wanting to know where we’re going for lunch. I didn’t have any plans, so I said I’d be happy to break bread with him. He tweeted Brad Panovich, who was going to Panera Bread.
So after the session ended, I looked for Ricky and found him. That’s not real hard because he’s tall…just don’t try to find him if he turns sideways! Anyway, we caught Brad going out, and he had the one and only Jim Cantore in tow, along with a couple other folks. We asked if we could join them and Brad confirmed that such a thing would be okay.
For the second time this week (I’ll write about the Monday lunch later), I walked to lunch. Panera Bread was a little bit farther of a walk than the Bonefish Grill the day before, but in the same general direction. I walked with Ricky behind almost everyone and really soaked in the conversation.
Once we got there, I ordered a turkey and bacon sandwich…playing it safe, as usual. I was right after Jim, so I got to introduce myself while we waited on our food. He asked me how things were going in Bristol, and I told him about the Battle at Bristol and how they’re going to play a football game at Bristol Motor Speedway in a few years. Jim seemed quite intrigued by that concept. I can only hope that somehow we can get that man in Bristol for that game in 2016…as long as he doesn’t bring bad weather with him, of course!
The rest of lunch was spent with me eating and listening to conversations. Brad ended up talking about the weather balloon he launched and watched fly across the state last year. That was fun, and I still need to see the video on that. Jim and Ricky talked a little about flying things, and I got to throw in a word or two if I knew anything about something that was being said. It was a lot of fun, five of us and Jim Cantore having a conversation over lunch.
During the walk back, I was able to address a couple ongoing concerns I have about things that most weather people get to look at every day that I can’t get in just yet. Everyone in the group who heard it absolutely can’t understand what’s going on, especially considering that in other areas I wouldn’t have any problems. I got some good advice on how to fix the problems, and I’ll have to put them into process over the coming weeks.
We got back just in time for the repeat of the Hurricane Hugo presentation. It wasn’t a repeat for people who weren’t in there on the first day, and it’s not like the presentation went the exact same way this time, either. The slides and videos were the same, but that’s just fine. Hugo is a storm that I vividly remember giving us problems way up here in the mountains, so it’s definitely interesting watching all the old 1989 footage from the Low Country ahead of that awful storm.
After that was the third session, this time on severe weather and tornadoes. The new executive director of the NWA, Janice Bunting, talked about all the communication issues that were involved during the tornadoes in central Oklahoma this past May. It’s not entirely hard to believe that if one tornado hits the right place, power and cell coverage could go out for just about everyone in a large area. That would make us go from connected to seemingly a million miles away from everything in a very short time.
The best title of a presentation of the entire meeting was by Jen Henderson from Virginia Tech. It was called “Mr. Tornado and His Scale: The Social Construction of an Imperfect Standard.” Jen went on to highlight Ted Fujita’s groundbreaking research on storms and his F-scale that was just re-worked not long ago. It left me wondering exactly how he would’ve changed the scale if he was still alive. That was quite the thought-provoking presentation about a man I really wish I could’ve met. In fact, that presentation is something I’ll chat with Jen about later on after some other things we’re working on that I’ll discuss in a later blog.
Between the afternoon session and the panel discussion for the late afternoon, I decided I’d go to the Broadcasters Dinner. It was to be held at Southend Brewery in downtown Charleston. The more I heard about it, the more I liked the idea of going, and I got my name in the hat to go to that during the evening.
After the panel discussion, I went upstairs to change, and went back down to the lobby. It seems everyone in the world went to the lobby between that last session and the icebreaker. Most of the broadcasters that I know of stayed at the lobby the whole time until we went to get on the bus for the Broadcasters Dinner.
I sat at a table with Brad Panovich, Meg Danahey, and a lot of people I didn’t know at the time. I thought it was a fantastic idea to sit there with them and listen to them talk. It was a revolving table, and I ended up chatting with Meg quite a bit during the evening. Meg works with Brad at WCNC in Charlotte, and I’ve known she works there for a long time, but didn’t get to meet her until that afternoon. I definitely enjoyed chatting with her and about ten other people who rotated in and out of the general vicinity during the course of about two hours or so,
Buses were prepared to take all the broadcasters to the dinner, and the three of them were supposed to leave at 7:15. I got over there right in time to get on the second bus, which I did. I arrived at the same time as Ashley Athey and others from Virginia Tech, so I got to talk a bit with her since she was sitting right in front of me. That also ended up being the bus Betsy Kling rode, as well as Samantha Smith, her boyfriend Scott, and Laura Velasquez. Matt Ernst, an old friend from Birmingham’s meeting, came in late and sat beside me.
While we traveled through unknown parts of Charleston, everyone was talking, and it was a rather loud environment…but not by far the loudest of that night! Matt Ernst has a few radio stations to deal with along with his TV station, so we got to talk shop about radio for a little while. I really enjoyed that, chatting about a non-weather thing that I know something about. Matt talked about having a switch in his station that will allow the TV station audio to feed down to all the radio stations. I told him I had to have one of those, since I have to bounce between studios to do severe weather coverage as it is right now.
I eventually turned around and found Laura sitting behind me, so we got to talk a little more. Inexplicably, I chose this moment to ask her various serious professional questions about her future plans and that kind of thing. I’ll leave those comments between us, but I did decide to personally thank her for her help with not only the right words to say to me a couple months after the April 2011 tornado outbreak, but also for encouraging me with help forecasting and being really helpful with advice on becoming less fat, too. I needed her to know that it meant a lot to me, and I think that point got across…even in a loud bus.
Matt and I chatted a bit as we all entered Southend Brewery. Here’s another spot where I may get in some hot water. Yes, I was in an establishment with a bar and where alcoholic drinks were being served. That happened quite a bit during this trip. Rest assured that if you care about this, I have no desire at all to drink anything alcoholic. From an early age I’ve turned that off as a possibility, and I have exactly no temptation to drink. Every time I entered a place like that, I had water to drink. If you don’t believe that, I’ll let you contact the NASCAR Weatherman…because he knows it’s true!
Our dinner was pretty nice, except for the fact that the chairs Matt and I were sitting in were taken by the time we got through the line! No big deal, we just went downstairs to an empty table there. Eventually, we were joined by Ricky Matthews and James Morrow, who comes from Virginia Tech. Later, Bill Murray came in to get a quick bite before getting the evening’s WeatherBrains show set up. Not long after that, Bruce Thomas, the current NWA president arrived. So it can definitely be said that I was blessed to break bread with lots of important people in meteorology along with some friends of mine.
Miles Muzio (from KBAK in Bakersfield, CA) came along with his weather scavenger hunt thing, and Bruce bought one of them and started working on it, as did Matt Ernst. Bruce did one or two, and then passed his sheet off to Ricky, James and me to finish it up. Thankfully, I keep my forecasting links ready to go on my cell phone browser, so we looked at that the whole time.
While we were doing that, we were all informed that the buses were leaving going to the karaoke event elsewhere in downtown. I knew I was going, but I was more interested in hanging out with some of the important people at the dinner and the WeatherBrains show. So I stood around with Matt and chatted with a few people and finished the scavenger hunt sheet with Ricky and James.
One of the more interesting parts of the evening was chatting with Dave Freeman, the chief meteorologist at KSN TV in Wichita, Kansas. Of course, this was interesting because I was one of many who were watching storms go from Oklahoma into Kansas and right into the city of Wichita. Dave sent all of the staff to their shelter at a time when the storm was headed right for them. It was great listening to Dave tell that story while Bill Murray and Bruce Thomas shuffled people in and out of the evening’s Weather Brains hot seat.
Eventually we all realized that we’d been left, as the buses had departed long ago. I had two options, stay there and wait for Miles to take Matt and a couple others to the karaoke, then have him take me to the hotel, or just go to the karaoke. So I decided to do the latter. I’d never been to something like that, so I figured why not. Getting a little out of tune singing might be good for me.
So Miles, Matt, a girl from Oklahoma and a guy she knew all hopped into a pretty small car for the ride to the bar where karaoke was to happen. Miles set his GPS and we were off. I would learn later that the OU girl in the back seat with Matt and the other guy was named Shelby Hays. She was talking on the way down the road about her dog, Mr. Speckles. That made the car ride a quick and interesting one!
The karaoke was at a very small bar in downtown Charleston, the name escapes me at the moment. There were probably 75 broadcasters in there, most of them drinking and having a merry old time. As is my way, I didn’t touch that stuff. I did, however, get to sing along with everyone to a bunch of songs I knew, including “Friends in Low Places,” “September,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and a lot more. My friend Alison, if she reads this, will find absolutely hilarious that I was singing pretty loud with all of those songs and the people singing them.
A note to all broadcast meteorologists: You haven’t lived a full life until you’ve heard Nick Walker sing “Sweet Caroline.” That was an absolutely amazing experience, as was just about any song Betsy Kling got up to sing, even the one that got messed up. Brian Neudorff was there for a little while, but randomly disappeared. As the night went along, I basically hung out with Ricky Matthews and Matt Ernst while watching the clock. At 12:30, the buses would arrive and take us back to the hotel.
I went out there at 12:30. No bus. I stayed out there for 15 minutes enjoying the cooler air and not having very loud music and bad singing blasting into my left ear. We never saw a bus, so we went back in. Matt went to have another drink, and I sat down near the back and watched the proceedings. After half an hour more of that, my head was splitting, so I went back outside only to learn that the buses didn’t run after 1am and we were stuck.
This did not make me happy. I wandered around both inside and out for a little while and tried to figure out what to do. My head was hurting so bad, I didn’t think very clearly and texted Brian and asked him to come get a few of us. That was an incredibly stupid idea, because I could’ve gotten a cab. So a big thanks goes out to Brian for getting me out of there. Ricky ended up tagging along, and we left a bunch of broadcasters down there.
My sisters tell me that I have many of the mannerisms of Peyton Manning. I didn’t believe that until the karaoke night. I was very upset with myself that I didn’t drive myself, that I got stuck in downtown Charleston, that I called Brian out of the hotel room when I could’ve taken a cab, and in part that I left people in there that maybe would’ve appreciated a ride home. In that moment I understood totally what my sisters were talking about…I felt just like Peyton after throwing an interception or something like that.
I expressed a lot of that consternation to Brian throughout the ride home and after we were in the hotel, and he did a good job calming me down on a lot of those things. He even told me that he didn’t mind all that much driving all the way down to get me after he was pretty comfortable in the hotel room. I don’t know how much I really believe that last one, but I told him that I really appreciated that he did that and picked a couple of us up. He’s one of a couple folks that I realized during this meeting that are not only colleagues in meteorology, but friends, too.
At the end of the day, while I was laying in the dark at 4am trying to get a few hours sleep, it dawned on me that one of my goals for the trip was accomplished. I was able to express to Laura, in person, my appreciation for her taking time to talk me through some things on Twitter when I needed a lot of help. That in itself is a major deal, because she’s one of two people who deserved not only a thank you but probably a big trophy for helping dig me out of the doldrums of a severe weather event that included fatalities. I’m a firm believer that people are introduced into your lives for a reason…at least one reason. The fact that I was able to express appreciation toward Laura was a really big deal for me, and that got done!
Over 4100 words later, that ends an absolutely crazy second day in Charleston for me. It’s taken the better part of three hours getting all this typed out!
Click Here for Day 3!